The internationally renowned Etosha National Park – undoubtedly Namibia’s most popular tourist attraction – is the heart of the north-central region. The park serves as the ultimate stopover before heading for the arid northwest, the water-rich northeast, or the largely unexplored culturally rich Land of the Owambo People.
Etosha owes its unique landscape to the Etosha Pan, a vast, shallow chalky white depression of approximately 5 000 km2 that forms the heart of the park. Once a large inland lake fed by the early Kunene River and rivers from the north, it began drying up about 3 million years ago when the Kunene was diverted to the Indian Ocean. A series of waterholes along the southern edge of the pan guarantee rewarding and often spectacular game viewing. In good rain years the pan fills with water draining southwards from Angola via a delta-like system of shallow rivers and oshanas, drying out in the winter to become an austere expanse of white cracked mud, shimmering with mirages and upward spiralling dust devils.
What we call Etosha today was proclaimed as Game Reserve No 2 in 1907 by the then German Governor Friedrich von Lindequist. With subsequent additions it became the largest game reserve in the world, covering a vast area of ±80 000 km2. For political considerations its size was progressively diminished, until by 1975 it had been reduced by 77 per cent to its present surface area of 22 912 km2. Nevertheless, it is still one of the largest game reserves in Africa.
Etosha is known as the jewel in Namibia’s crown.
Of the 114 mammals species found in the park, several are rare and endangered, such as black rhino and cheetah, and the lesser-known blackfaced impala, which is endemic to northwestern Namibia and southwestern Angola. Etosha’s current population of black rhino represents one of the largest populations of black rhino in the world.
Other large mammals in the park include elephant, giraffe, blue wildebeest, mountain and plains zebra, hyaena and lion. Cheetah and leopard complete the trio of ‘big cats’. Antelope species range from kudu, gemsbok and the large and stately eland, to the diminutive Damara dik-dik. Smaller mammals include jackal, bat-eared fox, honey badger, warthog and the ubiquitous
dry season) Etosha’s animals and birds are dependent on about 30 springs and waterholes. These provide excellent game viewing and photographic opportunities. A good policy before setting out is to enquire from camp officials what the current game movements are. During the rainy season, the bird life at the main pan and Fischer’s Pan is well worth viewing. Etosha’s vegetation varies from dwarf shrub savannah and grasslands, which occur around the pan, to thorn-bush and woodland savannah throughout the park. Eighty per cent of all of Etosha’s trees are mopane. West of Okaukuejo is the well-known Sprokieswoud – Fairy, Phantom or Haunted Forest – the only place where the African moringa tree, Moringa ovalifolia, grows in such a large concentration on a flat area. Etosha is open throughout the year and is accessible by tarred roads via the Andersson Gate on the C38 from Outjo, the Von Lindequist Gate in the east from Tsumeb on the B1, the Galton Gate in the west from Kowares on the C35 and the King Nehale Gate located on the Andoni plains just north of the Andoni waterhole, which provides access from the north-central Owambo regions on the B1 from Onyati.